Saturday, September 20, 2014

Through Various Glasses Darkly

For most of your life, you have gone about in the world wearing some form or another of glasses.  Early photos of you show an owlish boy, hair plastered or watered down against an army of rebellious cowlicks, as eager to erupt as you were eager for the recess-time escape from the classroom.  

These photos have you scowling into the camera through lenses mounted in black or tortoise-shell in horn rims.  For a while, you switched to wire frames, perhaps from your parents' judgment that these would better withstand the furies and unrest of boyhood. You proved equally at home breaking horn-rimmed glasses as you broke wire frames

By the time you were ten or twelve, you'd become inured to such terms as strabismus, far-sightedness, and the more generic "weaker left eye."   You even knew the Latin abbreviations for the eyes on prescriptions, os for oculus sinister, and OD for oculus dextrus, thus left and right, adding to your growing accumulation of foreign words and terms.  

The word sinister had a nice ring to it.  Because your left eye was measurably the weaker of the two, and because the comic books you then read and the radio serials you listened to were filled with sinister characters, you got even for the inconvenience of glasses, ultimately bifocal glasses, and in the bargain another Latin-sounding word, by doing your best to appear sinister.

Few of the types of characters you wished in your boyish fancies to be wore glasses.  By degrees, you therefore abandoned potential careers as a cowboy, a pilot of a mail delivery airplane, a fireman, and for reasons you've not yet been able to reconcile, a maitre d' for either an Italian or French restaurant.  

To the best of your knowledge, one could be sinister while wearing glasses. You read extensively to acquire sinister traits from the likes of Long John Silver in Treasure Island and even more so from the arch villain from Wilkie Colins's stunning, The Woman in White, Count Fosco.  

The great likelihood is your being seen as grouchy rather than sinister, but at this remove, you're willing to accept that grouchiness has some cachet, and although cachet has more of a French origin than Latin, your boyhood self was willing to negotiate.

This did not stop you in your secret heart from wishing to be a cowboy or pilot or fireman or maitre d.  These secret urges had the positive effect of causing you to read books about individuals who followed these professions to the point where reading became the engine, while the content of the reading became the fuel.  When questioned about your preferences for birthdays and other gift-giving times, you openly sought a Daisy B-B gun, Red Ryder model, faux pearl-handled six-shooter, Gene Autry cap guns, or fur-lined pilot's helmet, with goggles.  Only a matter of time before your secret hearts were beginning to find their way into stories.  

A writer who wore glasses could still write Western stories.  When one editor of a Western magazine suggested to you that your name did not seem to go with Westerns, you became the alter egos Craig Barstow, which sounded Western enough and Walter Feldspar, which allowed you in metaphor to ride the horses of your dreams across the terrains of your imagination. In those same dreams come true, there is the persistent picture of you, accompanying your regular column for the Virginia City, Nevada Territorial-Enterprise, wearing horn

As a glasses-wearing writer, you had two other landscapes to traverse before you could hang up your spurs, one of these was commercial television, which lasted a few frustrating years, followed by a few more years in which a noted literary agent sought to corral (his choice of verbs) your abilities to the point where you were attempting to write stories for the coated-stock monthly magazines referred to as "slicks."

You discovered at length the strong possibility of at least one glasses-wearing writer finding what would today be called a narrative voice.  You were not a commercial television writer nor were you at the time interested in any of the kinds of drama you've become interested in of more recent years.  

You were an anomaly, a lover of unslick, of so-called pulp, except that your concepts of plot were un-pulp-like, undershot with sly, mocking undercurrents, and characters riding off into their own sunsets instead of your sunsets.

Wouldn't you know it, your eventual development of cataracts was the cause of your farewell to contact lenses.  A jumble of drug store reading glasses sit at the ready on your desk, but they are more often than not left at home, forgotten.

Wearing glasses, then switching in your mid-forties to contact lenses, you pursued careers and agendas you'd not thought open to you, while in real time pursuing careers you'd not thought open to you, proving that the imagination is a magnificent steed to ride upon, however riding-challenged you may be in real life.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Shortcuts to Story Payoff

You have often thought of Santa Barbara as the place you came to in order to get away from Los Angeles, even though that conceit didn't work.  The moment you got the job that would justify leaving Los Angeles, you got another one for which you had to commute to Los Angeles, at least once a week, often two times.

During those thirty-four years of commuting to Los Angeles while essentially being away from it, an infinitude of individuals came to Los Angeles, by no means to make up for you leaving it, but for all the reasons people leave places such as Santa Barbara and move to Los Angeles.  

With all those new individuals, moving to Los Angeles to find their true selves and in the process advance their careers, you were leaving Los Angeles, convinced at the time you'd already found yourself, and now wanting to spend time developing what you'd found.

Los Angeles was giving you the equivalent gift of the eponymous gift of the O. Henry short story, "The Gift of the Magi."  This had nothing to do with having your father's pocket watch as Jim, a principal character in the short story had, although you did indeed and still do have your father's pocket watch, which he apologized for having nothing else than that to have left you.  

This was not the wrench for you it was for Jim.  You already were aware of things he had left you that were of deeper consequence than the watch.  Although the watch is cherished, it was far from his only legacy.

The job you had before leaving Los Angeles, the job that no longer was, became the reason you got "The Gift of the Magi" job in Los Angeles.  The jobs for which emigres to Los Angeles were hopeful caused considerable clotting and mischief in the traffic.  Being familiar with the terrain meant you knew a thing or two about short cuts, a knowledge that played even more of a part on the days when you had occasion to make the commute more than once a week, while still being obligated to giving your employer in Santa Barbara at least a forty-hour week.  This meant to you the need for at least a forty-two or -three hour week.

The job Los Angeles gave you was a job you'd never considered in any form after one semester in which, in the interests of close contact with a potential girlfriend, you signed up for two education courses.  Bad move.  The very word, pedagogy, as deployed about those classes, injected a morbid fear of boredom into your already chaotic visions.  

By this time in your career, you were used to boring lectures, which have the same effect on you as trying for a comfortable night's sleep in a Motel 6.  You responded to boring lectures by a studious avoidance of instructions known by you to be boring.  No surprise that you needed more than four years to graduate.

There you were, on the receiving end of a lesson, teaching courses at graduate level, aware each time you strode into a class room of the potential for being a boring lecturer and teacher.  Since you were in major effect trying to teach these graduate students how to write narratives with little or no boring portions, you were also in effect trying to discover ways you could avoid producing material with boring outcomes or even mere boring moments.

In ways similar to those instinctive moments of knowing shortcuts to avoid traffic sclerosis, you began to develop through cause and effect shortcuts through boredom.  You are now comfortable with the awareness of how one simple number two pencil can provide shortcut to story, to visceral moments, to visions of characters who have no shadows, rather they are individuals who radiate tangible personality.

You are comfortable with an awareness basic enough to border on the outskirts of cliche:  The job of the storyteller is to evoke rather than describe.

What elements is the storyteller to evoke, you ask?  A presence as fraught, confrontational, and seething as the Santa Monica Freeway, southbound, at the Arlington Avenue turnoff, which, by the way, is an excellent shortcut to the target destination of Jefferson and Figueroa Streets, outliers of the university where you were more often on time than not.

Storytellers evoke inner landscapes of individuals trapped in the vehicular thrall of Los Angeles Streets, each with an agenda to pursue, with dreams to color the agenda, and with a compelling sense that the agenda is not only worthwhile, it is fucking vital.

You'd be remiss if you failed to mention shortcuts here in Santa Barbara.  Thanks to an influx of individuals seeking to escape the traffic of Los Angeles in order to find calmness and purpose here, and with equal thanks to the growing fact of Santa Barbara becoming a commuter destination, you've had to develop instincts for shortcuts.

Instead of reaching your favorite local coffee shop, The Daily Grind, by staying on State Street, past the near impossible left turn onto De la Vina, turn left off State Street onto Constance, heading almost due west until you reach De la Vina at the moment it stops being a one-way southbound street.  Turn right, past the Chicken Ranch Barbecue and Laundromat, for another block.  You will be heading in the right direction, be on the right side of the street, and have saved two- or three-tenths of a mile, had you stayed on State Street to Las Positas, where you could get away with the left turn.

Oh yes; don't start your story with background or description or backstory.  Put a few individuals in action.  Let them--and the readers--figure out what's going on to the point where they become curious.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Salute Your Adversarial Gorilla at Some Point in Every Story.

First come the characters, then the task or set-up, then the beginnings of opposing forces, which at once begin to accelerate.  There you have it, the beginning of story, which presents you with a presentiment of the ending, a "this can come to no good" presentiment.

Say you have chosen as your characters those iconic, Beckettean prototypes, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, each in his appearance and manners suggesting a wild difference from the other.  The former, tall, reedy, easy to distract; the latter a variation on themes of roundness, a role model for a snow man, his round head seeming to have been plunked on his round torso.  Hardy's other trademark prop, the ever present bowler hat.

The task, the movement of a piano.  They struggle against a mild upward grade, seeming to have some measure of control and poise, but what's this?  We are shown the upward grade in context.  The path leads to a mountainous gorge, spanned by a narrow bridge of planks, held by vines and ropes of questionable provenance.  The essential characteristics of the bridge re its flexibility and rustic engineering,

Thus does The Piano begin.  The two piano movers are dressed in Alpine shorts, suggesting The Piano is an excerpt from a longer work in which Laurel and Hardy are set in motion in some Alpine locale.  For our purposes, this excerpt is nevertheless a complete story, a stand-alone, in its way demonstrative of the shape and personality of story.  http://youtu.be/4bmCg_o8mAU

We are only seconds into the vision when Hardy's impatience manifests itself.  Hardy is, of course, impatient with Laurel; he is always impatient with Laurel.  Such is the nature of their dialectic.  Laurel is always gawking or looking or distracted.  Hardy is always impatient to get on with things, whichever things manifest themselves at the moment.  Laurel is fated always to be the engine of Hardy's impatience.  An Oliver Hardy who is patient is not in any way a story, rather the opposite.

The story has already begun, but from the moment the pair has the piano on the bridge, the point of no return has passed.  Story is running at full throttle.  Two helpless men on a flimsy bridge, several hundred feet above any convenient land.  They could not be any more vulnerable nor could we be any more involved.  We are, however, suspicious.  We know enough about story to know this particular point is a plateau to be surpassed.  Ah, there it is.  Some of the planks give, and Hardy has taken a tumble, leaving him yet more vulnerable, hanging from one or two of the more secure planks, his legs dangling.

Of course Laurel will attempt some tactic of rescue and of course this will in some manner incite more of Hardy's volatile temper.  We now have  two men and a piano halfway across the bridge.  To remind us of the precariousness of their position, the producers allow us another view of perspective.  Precarious,.  Scary,  We still have no knowledge of why they are moving the piano, where its final destination will be.  Our own lives have been assigned such Sisyphean tasks with equally little explanation.

Whoever devised the next step, he or she has demonstrated an understanding of the surreal nature of existence, of story, of the essential psychology of story.  Coming across the mountainous span from the opposite direction on this essentially one-lane bridge is a gorilla.  Laurel attempts to warn Hardy.  "There's a gorilla."

Edgar Kennedy, a contemporary of Laurel and Hardy, had a trademark facial expression celebrated as "The slow burn."  Kennedy could steal a scene with his slow burn sense of events going wrong beyond belief.  Much as you admired Mr. Kennedy;s work, his facial registration of an existential cluster fuck was nothing to the inner anguish and world weariness of Oliver Hardy.

"There's,"  Hardy mocks, "a gorilla."

But there is in fact a gorilla.  In the manner of a serious opposing force, he has an agenda.  He causes things to happen, the sorts of things you might suppose a gorilla could cause to happen.  By this time, on levels beyond conscious levels, you are drawing on your own sense of experience in the world,on the plank bridges and whimsical rope and vine engineering, and of the considerable distance down, to the bottom of the gorge spanned by the bridge.

This, too, is story at its best, where the absurd, by its very absurdity, is no threat whatsoever to our concepts of the real and the imaginary.  Yet there are memories, social and of high personal nature, and tangible fears.  And there are triggered responses that send chills if not chills and adrenaline through our bloodstreams.  The absurd, exaggerated japery of two great performers and one unexpected gorilla send our senses into the spin of understanding, acceptance, and bonding rituals most of us experience every day and which some considerable number of us relate to on a first-name basis.

No book on fiction writing technique, including the two you've written and the one you're currently grappling with have suggested the need for your lead characters to encounter an adversarial gorilla at some point in your next story.  This is a matter you will do well to correct.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

It won't be long now, you say? What won't be long?

There are times you check over your notes or active composition when you come upon one of the most dread discoveries in your work.  The discovery is a single word, a word even more disconcerting than "that," which you find annoying, or "very," which you find irritating, or your favorite twofer,"accordingly," both an -ly adverb and often a word that does not need saying in the first place.

Added to this laundry list of what you have come to think of as complaint words (not because they indicate a meaning of complaint so much as because you find yourself so often complaining about the ways they sneak into your composition) is the most simple of words, "and."  

Often necessary to link two or more terms in need of connective tissue, "and" appears in your early drafts more than you wish,  In consequence, you lecture yourself.  You point out the way too many ands within a paragraph begin to weight the words rather than allowing them the glorious sense of flight for the sake of fun and clarity of meaning.

The word you have in mind for your own Most-Wanted List is "it."  Convenient as "it" may be, the word is a deliberate reference to some noun, some person, place, or thing, as a substitute for repeating or calling the noun by the name it came into the world with, perhaps forged in the fire of words originating as English, or borrowed from other languages with the same aplomb as portions of America were borrowed from other countries.

Your biggest issue with "it" begins when you find yourself responding with an interior "what?" when the word appears within someone else's prose.  What, you find yourself asking, almost in direct reflex, was cold?  What was raining?  What was the right time or the wrong time or the appropriate moment or the inappropriate one?  What didn't matter?  What was another example?

So much for mere issues.  When, during the process of revision or editorial review, you find yourself face to face with an undifferentiated it in your own composition, you not only confront the way you'll need to circumvent the usage, you suffer a measure of irritation that reminds you of the cross-section of a wedge of Roquefort cheese, veined through with the blue of a tangy, characteristic mold.  

The difference between the cheese and your reaction to the unintended "it" is frustration and, yes, a touch of shame.  You'd think to have matters under better control by now.  You don't.  In effect, "it" has its way with you.

The goals you've set for your sentences and paragraphs are high.  You wish these units of language and story and meaning to move forth with a graceful clarity, often betraying an amused awareness of the gap between human aspirations and human behavior, to say nothing at all about the gap between your own aspirations and the actions you employ to implement them.  

You do not always fare well.  When you do, one of the reasons has direct relationship to the care with which you go about your prose, tweezing out ands and thats and its and very.  You do not do this to have the literary equivalent of a well-articulated brow line.  You in fact have a wild and antic brow line.  Your major concerns are not so much perfection of grammar or syntax but of a clarity of the arguments and conflicts, struggling to provide the basis of story.

There are so many things going on within story, all at once, often at crossed purposes.  Weasel words, such as the ones you've been dealing with here, can slow the reader down, cause the sudden wrench of attention with the current action to an "it" or a "that" or a "very" or accordingly, a few paragraphs back.

Being watchful of such words has had a profound effect on the way you compose.  It won't be long before you find out why.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Two Poems for Times You Find Yourself Palely Loitering

Two of your favorite poems have remained your favorites not because of their surface romanticism, which is considerable,but for some greater, much more modern and realistic purpose.  

Both poems take you well beyond the romanticism so appealing to your pre-teen years and all the way into your twenties, where you sometimes cried yourself to sleep in envy of these works, so moving, tantalizing, so just a bit beyond your reach that you thought you could one day draw abreast of them as a fellow contestant in a race.

Your good fortune led you soon enough to the awareness that such notions of competition were not only unwise, they were impossible.  Thus freed, you could cry yourself to sleep in the service of more practical goals, the ability to untangle your frustrations associated with your own composition and the ability to turn these poems into the equivalents of background music you could begin to hear as you attempted to deal with your own frustrations of composition.

Both poems take you to the timing and placement and discovery of story.  Both take you beyond the emotional reach you seek when you read, and into the realm you seek when you enter the terrain, poised to compose.

The poems are William Butler Yeats's (1865-1939) "The Ballad of the Wandering Aengus," and John Keats's  (1795-1821) "La Belle Dame Sans Merci."  Lovely as it is to take both poems as visions evoked in their creators by the psychedelic of Romanticism, to braid Irish fabulism in the former with Arthurian knighthood-errantry in the latter, you also view them as literal representations of what ii feels like to encounter an idea for a poem or story or essay.

Each poem contains a quest.  In "Aengus" the narrator is from the Tuatha De Danann, a tribe of supernaturally gifted beings spoken of in Irish mythology.  He had a dream about a girl. Aengus "went out to the hazel wood/Because a fire was in my head."  Doesn't this sound like a writer, getting an idea for a story?  As the Yeats poem continues, 

"It had become a glimmering girl  
With apple blossom in her hair  
Who called me by my name and ran   
And faded through the brightening air."

The dream soaks through the layers of sleep and consciousness to become the object of the writer's innermost desires.  He must follow until he captures the essence to the point where he is able to replicate it for all of us.

Think in the mean time about what individuals have done in their transactions with the various gods, the risks and stands taken.  Think of Prometheus and Cassandra and Sisyphus and Leda.

Back to Yeats, Aengus is so determined to capture the story, there is nothing for it but for him to stay on task until the job is done:

"Though I am old with wandering  
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,  
I will find out where she has gone,  
And kiss her lips and take her hands;   
And walk among long dappled grass,  
And pluck till time and times are done,  
The silver apples of the moon,  
The golden apples of the sun. "


The Keats poem can be seen the same way.  In Stanza IV, 

"I met a lady in the meads,
  Full beautiful—a faery’s child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,         
  And her eyes were wild. "

By Stanza V., his writer is in, over his head with the idea.

"I made a garland for her head,
  And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She look’d at me as she did love,
  And made sweet moan."

Of course the poem plays out as Keats wrote it, a lasting and fateful journey into Arthurian legends and the shadowy mists of the ghostly English cultures.  But it also fits as you see it, the writer drawn into the immediacy of the creative ghosts and spectral shadows.  "O, What can ail the, knight-at-arms/Alone and palely loitering?" the poem begins.  And you say it it, What ails him is that he is stuck, can't quite get at it yet.  How many times have you palely loitered over a next step that would not come because you had not ridden deeply enough into the story yet?  How many times have you stood from your desk and told yourself, "This knight at arms is going into the kitchen to make coffee and stop palely loitering?"  

The poem continues:

"I saw pale kings and princes too,
  Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried—'La Belle Dame sans Merci
  Hath thee in thrall! ' ”         

Aren't these some writers you know, who have been caught up from time to time?

When story hath you in thrall, coffee is one hope for a way out as you grow old with wandering through hollow lands and hilly lands, hopeful of finding the answer to your story somewhere in there, in absolute mash-up of the Yeats and Keats.  This is why you sojourn here. alone and palely loitering, though the sedge is wither’d from the lake, and no birds sing.


          



 














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Monday, September 15, 2014

As True as Your Last Royalty Statement from the Book You Never Wrote

Your preoccupation with telling lies or the truth leads you into the prickly, thorny path between fiction and memoir.  The ease with which fiction may be conflated with telling lies comes from the notion that fiction is invented.  This notion hits a speed bump with the revelation that characters, however invented their heritage, nevertheless provide a truthful portrait of what a particular character thinks and feels.

Many writers you know build their characters by deciding what those individuals want.  Next step is to attempt some physical visualization of the character, which often involves picking a real life person as an armature about which to begin wrapping personality traits.  No writer you know, nor any of the writers past and present, whose work you admire, has ever confessed to a deliberate construction of characters who act contrary to their goals or beliefs.

The inherent truths of a character begin with the goals of that character.  The character may lie or distort the truth to accomplish a stated goal.  Iago may tell Othello things he knows to be untrue, but these lies are a part of Iago's purpose for being on stage.

One character's vision of another character may be a misreading or inconsistent vision, or clouded by personal agenda.  A policeman may, in spite of some misgivings about the innocence or guilt of a suspect,  have an agenda for wanting to believe the suspect is guilty of a particular crime.

The author may also have a nuanced agenda to the point where the behavior of a certain character sparks conflicting views.  A splendid and telling example of this dramatization of reporting about a character comes when we hear of the final moments in the life of that great Shakespearean scalawag, Sir John Falstaff.  For starters, we are not at all certain he is an actual sir, rather a pretender.

While his death is described to us by a tavern maid, Mistress Quickly, some of us may agree with her descriptions of the old boy going to his death as he went on a carouse, calling for another round of wine, remembering the occasional wench,  Others hearing Mistress Quckly's account, will have cause to conclude that Sir John has become fearful for the fate of his immortal soul and wishes to renounce the roister, the carouse, and the venal excess in order to seek forgiveness and, thus, take his last breath in repentance.  Not that Mistress Quickly introduces these thoughts or suspicions.  She can be seen as telling the truth as she saw and heard it.

Much the same sort of last minute opting for salvation is seen at the deathbed of the elder Lord Marchmain in Brideshead Revisited.   Will he or won't he?  Was that a nod or a scant twitch?  Once again, the potential for a split decision hovers about the characters.  In the Shakespeare, you can argue that much of his work has hints of his possible Catholic faith.  Evelyn Waugh made no bones about his Catholicism, so wouldn't it be a certainty that old Marchmain repented at the end?

For all Shakespeare and Waugh may have been practicing Catholics, taking the sacraments to the end, they were also storytellers, well aware of the dramatic intensity of ambiguity, where any of several possible truths might have applied.  They have left such matters where they belong, with us, to argue among ourselves and within the solitary point of meditation.

If we were to offer the assumption that nonfiction, say memoir, was a different matter, wherein truth was a requisite, wouldn't we be staring down the same uncertainty?  Nonfiction is a description of truths seen by the reporter, but are these truths any more likely to be accurate because the medium is nonfiction?  Were some of the exchanges of dialogue in memoir actual or only the observer's best guess of what was said?

Throughout the history of drama and history, writers have given us another filter by which the truth becomes manifest.  That filter is, of course, us, adding to the dialectic, the conversation, the argument about how much we should believe of the outcome of any given account, the outrageous fictions of The Simpsons, the historical plays of Shakespeare, and the wrenching dramas of Tennessee Williams.

We carry any number of individual filters within us, each one at some pains to maintain a vivid sense of what is true and what isn't.  More often than not, these filters know the difference between fantasy/wish-fulfillment and Reality, as in The Reality.  Most of them would not knowingly lie to the others.  But all of them have secrets they are unwilling to share and truths they are not ready to accept.

The best we can do is wait it out, doing our best to educate these individuals who live as squatters within that cluttered and shadowy edifice we call The Psyche.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lies, Damned Lies, and Stories

What a great sea of mischief in which you have marooned yourself as you seek answers and directions for what you have set out to navigate.  Like all mariners, you have two lives, the life at sea, which is the life of writing, reading, and teaching; and the life on  land, where you are governed by commonplace traditions and cultures.

Navigating the life on land, you have committed yourself to doing your best to represent things as you see them, indexing such things against the voices and received wisdom of your culture.  To the extent it is possible for you to do so, you seek to be a reliable narrator, holding yourself to accounts in which you index your responses and behavior against those of men and women you have met in person or through things they have written and from distillations of things written about them.

You never, for example, met Rachel Carson, although after reading her work, Silent Sprint, you recognized her as someone you considered a reliable and conscientious narrator, one you could  (and do) hope to emulate in accuracy and methodology.  

You never met Anita Hill except to see her performing under the most extraordinary and emotion-laden attacks possible, which she endured as long as it was possible for her to do so in her hopes of serving the kind of elective mindset and agenda you felt some sympathy toward.  She, too, represented to you not only reliability of life-on-land reliability, she also spoke to you of dignity and forbearance.

You never met Joan Didion in person, but because you've read so much of her published work, you feel an indelible respect and esteem.  She appears to you to do things with sentences and paragraphs that transcend reliability; she breathes close personal observation with a yearning to understand phenomena both on land and at sea.

You've never met Mark Twain in person, but you have trod some of the streets where he walked, sat at some of the places where he sat, observing, drinking with the boys, and worked for the same paper for whom he was a contributor.  You've read much if not all his voluminous output, argued with yourself and him about much of it, and come to conclude that as you set forth to find your own narrative voice, you were going to keep his in mind because he had the kind of effect you wished, neither reliable nor unreliable, neither identifiably outraged nor suitably humble.  

Every minute of the day, the Mississippi River comes crashing down past New Orleans, transporting silt,sand, and unarticulated flotsam, changing the shoreline by measurable degree.  Over the years, you've thought long and hard about the similarity of the effects the Mississippi has on the shoreline to the effects of Twain's voice on the shorelines of our language, our culture, and our behavior.

When you navigate the life on this sea of mischief and storytelling, your approach differs from your land-lubber life.  You invent, distort, argue ad hominem, and do your best to assign plausible roles to the large ensemble cast of persona lurking about within your psyche.  

You espouse causes you do not believe in on shore, look askance at persons of your actual politics, cause individuals who espouse similar causes as you to do unreliable, irrational things in service of their goals and their psychological impairments.  You bend and distort facts, waterboard characters, and say hateful things to individuals you might on land address to their exact opposite numbers.

On land, you more often than not describe.  When you are on sea, you lie your way into a tangible, believable reality of your own invention.  When you are on land, you render judgments about some persons, places, and things.  When you are a sea, you cause individuals you've created to believe in the opposite vectors of your landlubber visions.

There are times when your emotional sensors warn you of depression moving in, much like the marine layers that sometimes land on the brightness and sharp, flattering light that defines much of the life in this amazing Central Coast city where you live.  At length, you realize the cause of this depression--you are spending too much time with characters who are not at all like you but who are, nevertheless, characters for whom you must supply dignity, empathy, and self-esteem.

When you are faced with the chore you have set yourself--bringing dimension and esteem to characters whose presence may at times offend you--the fog of depression becomes a temporary luxury you cannot afford.  There have been and undoubtedly still are aspects of you who are not by any means your favorites.  

But in a bigger sense, every writing day is the equivalent of Thanksgiving.  These persona are invited to the table.  They pass the cranberry sauce and the yams and the turkey.  You send along the gravy boat and the greens and whatever other dishes they may request.  Live with it.

Then write about it.